The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is delighted that the University of Florida’s presidential search committee has named Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse as its sole candidate to become president of the university. We believe that Senator Sasse would make an excellent president of the University of Florida and we urge the University of Florida Board of Trustees to follow the search committee’s recommendation.
Senator Sasse is extraordinarily well-qualified for the position. He possesses a history Ph.D. from Yale, he has taught at Yale University and the University of Texas, he has served as president of Midland University in Nebraska, and of course he has been a United States senator since 2015. The president of a public university ought to have academic credentials and interests; organizational skills; fundraising skills; and political skills. Few Americans can boast so extraordinary a combination of these skill sets as Senator Sasse. The University of Florida, and all Florida citizens, will be extremely fortunate to secure his services. Sasse may do as well for the University of Florida as Mitchell Daniels has done as President for Purdue University in Indiana.
Sasse’s nomination is “controversial”—and the supposed controversy illuminates the dangerously illiberal nature of American higher education. The radical activists that have secured control of the commanding heights of our colleges and universities wish to prevent Sasse’s appointment because he does not support every aspect of their agenda. They are agitating against Sasse, presumably in the hope that sufficient disruption will prompt the Board to withdraw Sasse’s nomination and substitute someone more aligned with the activists’ political preferences.
This challenge cannot be allowed to stand. America’s universities must be reformed, and they cannot be if the radical establishment is allowed to veto any prospective university president they dislike. The challenge here, moreover, is to governance of a state university by the elected representatives of the state’s citizenry. America suffers greatly from an authoritarian elite that disdains and will accept no accountability to the American people. Senator Sasse’s nomination must proceed, to reaffirm the principle that the American people are sovereigns in their republic, not subjects.
Senator Sasse has not presented himself as a “culture warrior,” and we do not believe he would act as one at the University of Florida. His independence of mind and good judgment may lead him to embrace “culture war” reforms, but he seems more likely to seek out consensus within the University of Florida. We believe that the University of Florida, as all higher education, must embrace thoroughgoing reform, to eliminate illiberal policies—and we would be glad to make the case to Senator Sasse that the University of Florida must undertake such reforms to flourish. But we support the Senator’s candidacy regardless of whether he promotes NAS’s preferred policies.
The NAS supports Senator Sasse’s candidacy because we believe he would serve the University of Florida with a spirit of devotion to higher education, with administrative and political competence, and with an irenic spirit that seeks to unify all Floridians. The NAS also supports Senator Sasse’s candidacy because the people of Florida should decide who runs their universities. It is both desirable and necessary that the University of Florida’s Board of Trustees vote to make Sasse the President of the University.
Image: Gage Skidmore, Public Domain